Saturday, February 11, 2012

Final Fantasy XII-2 Review

A series spanning 25 years, 14 main iterations and numerous spin-off titles is a definite force to be reckoned with. The Final Fantasy series is one of the few in the world which can lay claim to being incredibly successful for a long period of time. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is one of the rare direct sequels in the series which is more like a series of events in the same universe. XII-2 follows on from where XIII finished, but will have you controlling Serah the sister of Lightning as she travels through time to try and rescue her sister. Since FF XIII had a definitive ending to their mission to protect Cocoon from the fal'Cie, players can come into XIII-2 without any previous knowledge of the story and still pick it up with ease. For those who need to know what happened, a beginner's Primer is available to help pick up the main pieces of the story.


I was absolutely blown away with the art direction and incredible level of detail in FF XIII. RPG's have huge extravagant worlds and this size generally doesn't allow for the finesse and beautiful graphics seen in smaller titles such as a FPS. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is beautiful, that is probably the simplest way to put this. The characters, the world, the animations are all truly unique and the level of detail is unmatched in the RPG genre. Cut scenes never ceased to amaze, the smallest things such as Serah's hair waving in the breeze or accurately moving as she turned her head are just some of the many ways that Final Fantasy excels. If you aren't looking for a RPG that you can appreciate graphically as well as with great gameplay, this is certainly the one to purchase.

For people who have never played a recent Final Fantasy title, you will soon notice that they are heavy on the cut scenes and live action areas of play. The start of the game will go for around 20 minutes and is a brilliant spectacle of cut scenes and cinematic areas which require the use of quicktime events to progress through. In most cases, the sheer amount of time you will spend watching the story unfold would get on my nerves, but the story behind XIII-2 requires the story to be told in such a way. The spectacular areas you visit and beautiful set pieces created by the developers deserve to be shown in a premeditated way to showcase the true spectacle.

During the game the presentation stays at the lofty standard produced by the cut scenes. Serah runs around like a you would imagine her to, with almost a prance in her step. I encountered no pop in what so ever in my travels and fluid animation even in the most intense of battles. The hybrid fighting style of Final Fantasy is unique to the series and brings the action of real time battles to turn based fighting. Big boss fights or those with lots of monsters can get quite hectic and all the movement on the screen still looks coordinated and beautiful to watch. The menus are slick and easy to use and set out well for both newcomers and seasoned JRPG veterans.

Final Fantasy games of old offer some of the most recognisable soundtracks to ever grace a video game. Titles such as FFVII still reveal a sense of nostalgia when I hear them and XIII-2 could potentially do this in years to come. The fun lighthearted nature of the musical score is fabulous and is tuned into Serah's sweet and innocent side rather than the evil she must face on her journey. The soundtrack is more vocal than past games, which isn't a bad thing. Not every game from Japan makes a smooth transition from being Japanese to English, but FF XIII-2 excels with strong voice actors really bringing the characters to life and successfully engages the player into the story. From the very beginning I felt connected to Serah and instantly felt like I wanted her to succeed in her quest. You can make an instant opinion of a character which will ultimately affect what dialogue choices you choose to make with them.


The first game in the story of Serah and Lightning was a good game, but despite that is was slammed by critics for the extreme linearity of the title. RPG's are all about exploration and running away from the main story to create your own adventure. Everyone who plays the same RPG should be able to have their own unique experience and visit places which other people who have played the game may not have. This ultimately hurt the title and have led people to be sceptical about XIII-2. The developers seemed to have made it their sole purpose to prove gamers wrong as they have expanded the game to shower you in choices and varying paths to take.

For me the FF series has always been about the breathtaking stories first and gameplay second. Strong character development and emotional finales have glued me to the screen for years. The world you are taken into is a big part of developing that story and expanding the world has improved the story for me personally. The game starts off with Lightning in a mysterious realm called Valhalla. She is soon in the midst of a battle with a man named Caius in order to protect Valhalla. A mysterious stranger called Noel soon appears, who is given the task by Lightning to find her sister, Serah, and bring her to Valhalla. We then learn that Noel is from the future and can travel through realms of varying periods of time. This opens the game up considerably and as soon as Serah and Noel begin their adventure the map opens up with winding paths and an encouragement to explore. The story is fairly unique from the original, a direct sequel in the Final Fantasy series mainly means that the same characters and universe are used. A newcomer can easily hop into XIII-2 and get on without a worry, but the beginner's primer can relive key moments from the past game if they feel the need to see a recap.

The battle system has remained same in a basic level, but a few interesting changes have been made. Probably the most drastic change is that Noel and Serah are the only human characters that will ever be in your party. The 3rd slot is now reserved for monsters which you can take control of after defeating them in battle. This adds a very interesting mechanic to the game as those millions of obsessive people who had to "Catch 'em all" in a certain handheld title will find the same experience here. Battling still follows the action turn based system of the previous title which is fairly easy. You can either choose what attacks you wish to line up or let it automatically fill your bar with attacks. While the second option may sound boring, it will be used a lot since the new Paradigm shifts in XIII-2 inject some much needed action. Paradigm's are kind of like game tactics or styles which designate how your characters will go about the fight. One paradigm may be designed to reduce damage on your characters while another paradigm will aim to confuse the monsters, making attacks and the ability to stagger them easier. It is rewarding to accurately use a paradigm shift in a big battle and automatically get the edge in the fight. While the majority of battles may seem easy in the beginning, accurate knowledge of when to shift becomes a vital tool later in the game.

A few various methods have been used to extend the life of the game. These come in the form of your standard side quests which generally involve fighting a certain monster or delivering an item. Sometimes a puzzle is thrown into the mix to change the formula up, but not often enough for my liking. These side quests are handy to level yourself and your monsters up using the crystarium system which returns from the last game. This is more of a visual tool to using points to upgrade certain abilities as well as unlocking new ones, but it is one I enjoy using over the standard menus of other games. The game also measures your progress in fragments, which can be either earned by finishing missions or found throughout the world. After finishing the game I had collected 50 or so out of the 160 in the game, so a lot of adventuring is still up for grabs.

There are a few areas of the game which do bring it down slightly. As much as I absolutely crave the story, the battle system and the amazing universe that you traverse through, some things don't live up to the incredibly high standard. XIII had a brilliant story and the large array of characters present kept the formula interesting as the chemistry between the group was constantly evolving. In XIII-2 you are always with Noel and Serah and they don't have the same charismatic style of characters such as Sazh, Lightning and Fang. It would've been nice for a few more people to help them along the way, even if they didn't have around for the entire adventure. Some people may not be happy with the simpler style of play compared to Final Fantasy's of old, but I am liking the mix of classic play and the new styles such as quicktime events which are now beginning to be prevalent in titles of every genre.


While Final Fantasy XIII-2 hasn't completely mastered where it wants the series to go from here, it is great to see that they listened to what people wanted and fixed it up for this sequel. The journey of Serah and Noel is a breathtaking experience which will be pulling on a few emotional strings towards the end in another classic story and world only found in the greatest of JRPG's. It won't go down as one of the true classics such as VI and VII, but signs are promising for the future. The ATB system is one that I enjoy and paradigm shifts are a great inclusion. Exploration is finally back in Final Fantasy and that can only be a great thing, definitely a game to consider even if XIII didn't take your complete fancy.

Graphics - 9.5/10
Sound - 9/10
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Overall - 9/10